Guest Commentary: Arriving Soon: Davis’ Bigger, Better, Costlier, Extravagant Toad Tunnels


By David Taomino

After 6 years of wrangling with Davis City Staff, Bretton Woods is under construction. The actual election process was easy compared to finalizing the details with Davis staff. We still have half-a-dozen important and extremely costly imposed conditions that impact costs to homebuyers.

The craziest staff imposition requires customizing the new drainage tunnels to make the “World’s Fanciest Frog and Toad Tunnels”, reminiscent of the 1995 famous toad tunnel fiasco that brought national embarrassment to Davis. As bizarre of a request as it sounds, that tunnel only cost $14,000, these four cost approximately $200,000. Two Davis staffers, the Open Space Manager, and a Public Works engineer, are demanding the two bigger, better, fancier, customized 110-foot-long tunnels paralleling Covell Blvd near Risling Drive, and two more in our Bretton Woods Channel to accommodate critters. Without the details, it doesn’t sound unreasonable on its face.

To “critter customize” these tunnels will cost each senior home buyer in Bretton Woods somewhere around $600 per home. While not a “princely sum”, it is only one of a dozen unnecessary costs heaped on Bretton Woods by city staff. What does each homebuyer get in return? Absolutely nothing, nada! What do the critters get for the extra cost? Only the staff knows, and they aren’t sharing, just demanding.

Where the critters are coming from or going; no one knows. I requested the staffers produce scientific evidence, or really any evidence, that this costly customization provides any more worthwhile conditions than normal tunnels. Does the staff have evidence that critters will need the customization compared to a standard tunnel? Just like 1995, NO!

Sadly, the unintended consequence of this forced customizing may be more 2019-like flooding of Sutter-Davis Hospital. Has the staff learned anything from the 1995 Toad Tunnel debacle or the flooding of 2019? Judge for yourself.

The two city staffers’ DEMANDS require that the four new drainage tunnels be enlarged beyond their intended size and purpose and customized with adding a new bottom of 6 inches of additional hand-poured concrete, then hand stamped to look and feel like individual cobblestones. Something akin to Old Sacramento streets. Why? Apparently to create a “critter friendly feeling” so that frogs, toads and other critters will be comfortable entering a dark 110 ft long, 4-foot-tall tunnel. Previously, Davis staff added “starlight” custom tunnel lighting to “comfort” the critters. Happily, not this time.  Where are the staff’s data to show what frogs and critters prefer? None provided.

Now there’s another practical problem. After the first rain, the 110 ft long, hand impressed grout fills in with sediment and the expensive hand-stamped cobblestone surface will be no different than the bottom of a normal drainage tunnel. These real-life conditions will continue with each major rainfall. Will the Public Works staff remove the sediment in order to expose their “critter-friendly feeling pattern” and maintain the hand-impressed, customized cobblestone look? You guessed it, NO! So, why then punish Bretton Woods homebuyers with unnecessary costs?

And, like the old TV ads for Ginsu knives, “but wait… the staff has more”. The same two city staffers also DEMAND the addition of an 18-inch wide, hand-made, 110-foot-long, wooden boardwalk roughly half-way up the 4-foot-tall tunnel walls so that critters who are uncomfortable with wet feet, (mice, rats and other rodents), are provided an inviting and comforting passage into the long, dark tunnels. No expense spared, especially since its paid for by the Bretton Woods’ home buyers.

So, what are the obvious and likely consequences of the staff’s boardwalk? By creating a 110-foot-long obstacle along the channel walls, dead tules, weeds, thatch, and other typical debris from the roughly 2 miles of the unmaintained dirt Covell Channel will get entangled in the boardwalk. It was channel clogging in 2019 that contributed to the water flow back-up that eventually flooded Sutter Davis Hospital, Lake Blvd, and part of Covell Blvd. in 2019. That event resulted from the lack of Covell Channel maintenance. The tunnels under Highway 113 were at approximately 65% capacity because excess drainage water couldn’t get through the channel to the 113 tunnels. Covell Channel was backed up and slowed by years of tule, weed growth, and build-up of sediment. Bretton Woods’ lots will be built on raised land above the flood plain and will have their own drainage channel intentionally maintained by the Homeowners Association and NOT City Staff. To see photos of the Covell Channel, go to

Finally, these same two city staffers took our voluntarily submitted, practical, 8-page engineer/landscaper prepared, common sense, Bretton Woods Channel Maintenance Manual and turned it into a ridiculous 44-page micro-managing theoretical treatise. The amount of irrelevant, redundant, and frankly unnecessary micro-managing is unbelievable. Then, they charged their time for this nonsense to us!  No such manual exists for the city’s Covell Channel nor ANY similar city facility. Believe me when I state that the city staff will fight “tooth and nail” not to have the Bretton Woods maintenance standards apply to them. I will be proposing exactly that to the City Council in the near future. Finally, there are still other items we are appealing that add up to nearly $2 million in unnecessary costs to home buyers. Now that we’re under construction we can have a fair- and open-minded review on these equally unnecessary staff-imposed costs.

To see photos of the city’s current maintenance of the infamous 1995 Toad Tunnel, the flooding of Sutter Davis in 2019, or the Bretton Woods Channel Maintenance Manual go to

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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      1. Bill Marshall

        I differ…

        The City made a very clear, legally correct, and appropriate statement… the time, place and manner, to clarify or refute, or defend is not “ripe”…

        The City is following appropriate process… because of Brown Act, other provisions of the Government Code, to do otherwise would be legally incorrect and inappropriate…

        Developers and bloggers are not constrained by the Government Code, nor even necessarily by ethics… the City is… sounds like the time will be “ripe” in October, for “the City to clarify or refute, or defend” (or revise, if appropriate).  In a public forum, which is the right place and manner.  Not on a blog.

        My two cents… at this point.


        1. Matt Williams

          Bill’s explanation of the City’s non-statement is accurate; however, in its accuracy Bill’s explanation confirms that a statement will exist only when “ripe”ness is achieved.

  1. Keith Y Echols

    So this is the state of local Davis development and politics.

    A developer without a sense of self awareness that comes off in tone as the stereo-typical anti-environmentally sensitive jerk developer….all the while asking for a reasonable explanation for the environmental mitigation requirement.

    Then the city says that the developer had opportunity to protest the requirement but failed to do so….so suck it up…..but they’ll still consider the issue without really telling anyone the details of the reasons for the requirements….basically saying; shut up and do every little thing we tell you just the way we want it.

    Is it any wonder why outside business/developers view the city of Davis as crazy town?  Remember it takes not only a cooperative local government for outside business/developers to come into a city but also local business partners too.

    1. Matt Williams

      Keith, you are relatively new to Davis so it is easy to understand your labeling David Taormino as being “without a sense of sense of self awareness.”  However; if one looks at the history of Taormino developments a pattern of incredible awareness (both self and otherwise) reveals itself.  I believe Mr. Taormino is deeply aware of how to manipulate City staff and Davis residents/businesses during the life cycle of a development.

      The history of Willowbank Park is a case in point.  It was first proposed as 100% SFR detached housing.  The citizenry made a very strong case for 100% attached condominiums like the condominiums on the other side of Mace in the El Macero Oaks.  After much wrangling and hand wringing a compromise was agreed to where a bit less than half of the units would be SFR detached (to complete the existing Pistachio Court cul-de-sac. With the compromise in place Council approved the development, which required a zoning change from the existing Church zoning to Residential.

      One year later, after behind closed door discussions an item appeared on the City Council agenda that converted the attached Condominium units to detached SFR units. The public was given no advanced warning that anything was coming, and the Council deliberations of the item were an exercise in Kabuki Theater.  The Taormino’s argument was that they could not find any demand for condominium housing.

      Then another year later, after another set of behind closed door discussions the number of inclusionary Affordable units was reduced.  Again the public had no real opportunity to provide input, and another Tuesday night Kabuki Theater performance ensued.

      Other people can weigh in on other Taormino projects where the rules were bent and then bent again after the fact.

      It is time for the City to make a clear statemnt that the rules were known up front, and they are not ex post facto negotiable.

  2. S Steward

    “Now that we’re under construction we can have a fair- and open-minded review on these equally unnecessary staff-imposed costs.”

    Mr. Taomino – I wonder if anyone has ever had to stop work because the Developer stepped away from the Developer Agreement.  Now that Ash Feeney is no longer our city’s Assistant Manager, and backwalking Developer obligations to work within the agreements that Davis residents voted on – I wonder if our staff and City Council will keep close eye on compliance.  

    The disregard for the loam valley land and former wetlands that all of Davis and the greater region is derived, that has been scrapped and drained away, is evident in Mr. Taomino’s criticism of what many of us our proud.  Toad Tunnel is an important biological consideration that disappearing amphibians and mammals rely.  

    If the requirement for a biological throughfare were new and it was objected to in a timely way – I’d have more sympathy for Mr. Taomino. Is the City prepared to deal with Mr. Taomino succinctly or is the City tied to it’s developer strings that brought us a third failed attempt at building out Mace Business Park/Innovation and Sustainability Center?  
    As the earth mover equipment dominates the landscape at the corner of Cover and Sutter Place, the swagger of Mr. Toamino is evident.  What is most important about this project is one condition of its passage and one condition only.  

    “Bretton Woods at build-out will feature 560 dwelling units with 80 percent of all units reserved for buyers and renters ages 55 and over and 90 percent for individuals connected to Davis.” July 5, 2022 Davis Enterprise, Anne Ternus-Bellamy.  Published from what seems to have been a press release from the Brenton Woods project.

    This obligation to provide over 90% of the units to Davis persons trying to move to smaller shared living environment and free up larger free standing single family homes to younger households was the image that freed up the will to take former agricultural property and pave it.  Standing City Council and prospective City Council members should have this feature of Brenton Woods firmly in mind.  Should this fail – expect no hope for Palomino (155 units), Shriners (1,150 units) or Mace Curve (551-788 units). 

    All of these depend on converting ag-land into concrete and asphalt, all of them are habitat and former swales and tule.  We gave the ok to Brenton Woods to make things possible for seniors to remain part of the community and continue the intergenerational town that is Davis. And to make it possible for young households to join us.  There may be other reasons, but these stand out to me as what this development is accountable.

    Don’t cross us.  conditions of economics are your responsibility. The DA agreement is clear.

  3. Walter Shwe

    The toad tunnel fiascos have rightly made Davis the laughing stock of the nation! Mr. Taomino is entirely correct in requesting that out of control city staff be reprimanded and their requirements be entirely reversed.

      1. Jean-Jacques Surbeck

        OK, a version according to which “conditions for the project do not include a “toad tunnel.” “. So was it all a bad dream? Assuming it is not and that the city is in fact playing semantics, one simple solution would be to make the two staffers who schemed to have the (non-existent) toad tunnel set up at such a high cost clean it in person from debris on a weekly basis, and if they refuse, thank them for their outstanding services and fire them. Fair choice, wouldn’t you agree?

        1. Keith Olson

          Actually, it’s a version where all of these conditions of approval appear to have already been agreed upon:

          On November 4, 2020, the City of Davis Planning Commission approved the Bretton Woods tentative subdivision map during a public hearing and subject to certain conditions of approval.  Among those conditions were requirements for specific pathway materials and widths, a wildlife crossing shelf/ledge and natural bottom for a culvert crossing, certain streets in the project to be maintained by the Homeowner’s Association instead of the City, and a requirement to use native plant materials. 

          All of these conditions were considered by the Planning Commission on the night of their final approval with the Applicant in attendance at the meeting. After the Planning Commission’s decision, the Applicant had the opportunity to appeal the project to the City Council, which would have allowed the Applicant the opportunity to contest conditions of approval, but no appeal was made. 

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